For months now, the opposing lawyers in the Robert Wone criminal case in D.C. Superior Court have argued back and forth about the evidence (or lack of it) at several court hearings.
Now a new fight has come up among the prosecutors and the defense lawyers: whether or not the presiding judge, Frederick Weisberg, should be allowed to stay on the case once the annual judicial calendars change at the start of the year.
Judges in Superior Court, much like judges across the country, are assigned to hear certain cases for a set time period. Weisberg’s term hearing “Felony 1” cases, which includes homicides, ends at the end of the year when he will begin hearing a “Felony 2” calendar. (Wone is a homicide victim, but nobody is charged with murder in the case.) Judge Lynn Leibowitz takes over Weisberg’s caseload in January.
Lawyers for the three men charged in the Wone case—the defendants are Joseph Price, Dylan Ward and Victor Zaborsky—say Weisberg should be allowed to continue to hear the case in the interest of judicial economy. The lawyers say Weisberg is familiar with the issues in the prosecution and that the trial, which is scheduled for May, would likely be delayed if a new judge is brought into the fold.
“[T]he notion that a new judge—no matter how capable—could get up to speed in four months is not only unrealistic, but a practical impossibility,” the defense lawyers, David Schertler, Bernie Grimm and Thomas Connolly, said in court papers filed Nov. 24. CLick here (.pdf) here for a copy of the court papers.
Zaborsky, Ward and Price, a former Arent Fox partner in D.C., are charged with obstruction, conspiracy and evidence tampering. Wone, a former Covington & Burling associate who'd become general counsel for Radio Free Asia, was founded stabbed to death in Price and Zaborsky's home.
The defense lawyers also say that any delay will increase the financial burden on the defendants.
Last week, prosecutors dismissed the financial concern outright and said that there is no prejudice in having a new judge come on board.
“The financial standing of any defendant cannot possibly be a relevant or legitimate reason to depart from the calendar assignments already set by the Court,” Assistant U.S. Attorney T. Patrick Martin said in court papers filed Nov. 23. “These defendants are no more entitled to special treatment than any other defendant in our criminal justice system.” A copy of the government's filing is here (.pdf).
D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Lee Satterfield was not immediately reached for comment this afternoon about the spat over the presiding judge in the Wone case. The chief judge has the authority to overrule calendar assignments and to assign a case to a particular judge.